Buying Prescription Drugs in Mexico

Legality and Limits of Bringing Medications Into the U.S.

Sometimes Americans travel to Mexico to take advantage of the fact that many medications cost less in Mexico than in the U.S. And some drugs that require a prescription in the U.S. don't require a prescription in Mexico.

Some Americans. especially seniors, are struggling with medication costs. There are many reasons for this.

Some people may need medications that are not covered under their Medicare drug plan, and struggle to pay full retail price. And sometimes the Medicare Part D prescription plan doesn't provide much financial relief.

Some people are not old enough to be eligible for Medicare. Or they may have hit what is called "the donut hole" in Medicare. This is the gap—the "hole"—that occurs after initial coverage kicks in but before catastrophic coverage begins.

A trip to Mexico, especially for those who live along the southern border, can appear to present a solution.

An older woman reading instructions for medicine
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This article will discuss whether it's legal to buy medications in Mexico and the precautions you must take to stay on the right side of the law. The rules change often and without notice. So it's your job to stay informed.

Are Prescriptions From Mexico Legal?

You are allowed to bring prescription medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from Mexico into the United States for your personal use. But there is a limit. In general, you may bring up to 50 dosage units into the U.S. without a prescription.

You must state, in writing, that the medication is for your personal use.

You will need a prescription from a licensed U.S. physician to bring more than 50 dosage units across the border. And here is a key point: A prescription from a Mexican doctor is no longer acceptable.

In addition, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) may prohibit a supply that is for more than 60 to 90 days.

All medications must be declared upon arrival at the border. And they must be in their original containers. Medications that are not approved by the FDA may not be allowed. Note that it is illegal to fail to properly declare imported medications with CBP agents.

Importing Unapproved New Drugs

The FDA prohibits the importation of "unapproved new drugs" for the purpose of distribution and sale.

This category basically includes any drugs that fail to meet FDA standards for safety and effectiveness. This also includes foreign-made versions of U.S.-approved drugs. These are the drugs that are often cheaper than those in the U.S.

The rules may be relaxed under certain conditions, including:

  1. The product is not for a serious condition and there is no known significant health risk (over-the-counter, OTC); or
  2. The product is for a serious condition (prescription).
  3. Effective treatment may be unavailable in the U.S.
  4. The product does not represent an unreasonable risk.
  5. The individual (patient) does the following: pledges in writing that the medication is for their own use (and generally for no longer than three months); provides the name and address of the U.S.-licensed doctor responsible for their treatment with the product; or offers evidence that the product is for the continuation of a treatment begun in a foreign country.

This does not mean that the FDA will allow individuals to import medications from Mexico at will. But it does give law-abiding Americans some options if they can't get, or can't afford, medications in the U.S.

Precautions

Be aware that the rules CBP agents follow change often and without notice. It's your responsibility to stay up to date. A rule you read about on, say, a Wednesday could be obsolete by the following Monday.

Contact U.S. Customs and Border Protection for timely information.

Contact CBP

CPB accepts phone calls from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Eastern Standard Time (EST), Monday through Friday, at 1-877-227-5511.

Medication Reminder

No one should self-prescribe prescription drugs, under any circumstance.

A physician should prescribe all your medications—and manage your treatment, as well.

It makes no difference if a prescription medication in the U.S. is available over the counter in Mexico. Americans are required to follow American safety rules set by the FDA.

Summary

There are limits to when you can bring prescriptions purchased in Mexico into the United States. You may do so if you have a serious medical condition, there are no effective treatments available in the U.S., and the drug does not pose any unreasonable risks.

Even then, there are limits. For example, you will be limited to a three-month supply.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it legal to import prescription drugs from Mexico?

    In most cases, it is illegal to import drugs from Mexico. However, the FDA does not object to the importation of drugs unavailable in the United States that are intended for personal use to treat a serious medical condition.

  • When is it legal to import drugs from Mexico?

    According to the FDA, you can do so if you have a serious medical condition; there are no effective treatments available in the United States; and the drug does not pose any unreasonable risks. You are only allowed a three-month supply and must state in writing that the drugs are for personal use.

  • What do I need to legally buy drugs from Mexico?

    Customs officials will want a letter stating that the drug is intended for personal use to treat a serious medical condition and is not available in the U.S. You will also need to provide information about the doctor treating you or proof that you are continuing treatment started in another country.

  • What are the dangers of buying prescription drugs from Mexico?

    Drug purity, safety, and effectiveness are the main concerns as these cannot be monitored or guaranteed. This is especially true with drugs that are available only by prescription in the United States but sold over the counter in Mexico.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. CFR—code of federal regulations Title 21.

  2. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Personal importation.

  3. U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Prohibited and restricted items.

  4. Food and Drug Administration. Is it legal for me to personally import drugs?

  5. Food and Drug Administration. Imported drugs raise concerns.